From Funk to Punk
I’ve seen a lot of high school drama shows in my time. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT. It’s not unexpected, nor unusual, for someone in their youth to watch shows which might reflect their life. I also might say its justifiable to continue watching these shows as an adult out of some misplaced envy for today’s youth and how my own youth was vastly unappreciated.
That aside, what can I say about high school dramas? Quite simply, most of them are absolutely (undeniably) terrible. The reason? Also simple. When it comes to the lives of the average teenager, most shows either widely under-hit or overhit their mark. Ranging from overcomplicated pregnancy triangles to serious drug addiction and criminal enterprise storylines, shows on teenagers have always seemed to estimate that the average life of the average teenager is rife with either drama, scandal or sex.
Now, while I can attest, both as a former student and as a professional within the field of education, that all three exist in the lives of Generation Z, they do not happen to be quite as scandalous as TV imagines. More so than anything, the average teenage life is often occupied with the purpose of fulfilling their personal quest of self-discovery and identity. Along the way various side quests are picked up such as: navigating the hierarchy of secondary school, pursuing a successful romantic interest, discovering the highs and lows of alcohol and narcotics and outright lying to your parental figure to get something you desperately want yet rarely need.
High School (2022) is not a show which carries its audience from episode to episode with a series of twists that leave you either feeling shocked or appalled. Rather, it carries itself with a sort of quiet dignity, knowing full well that the emerging troubles of twin duo Sara and Tegan Quinn (played by Railey and Seazynn Gilliand respectively) are quite ordinary to the viewers. Yet, through the eyes of the characters, we feel the weight behind each decision they make reflected in how their choices give depth to the emotional well from which they drink on their road from twin punks to twin punk singers.
Set in the late 90s, during an age of punk, High School follows twins Sara and Tegan in their formative teenage years long before they became the semi-famous Canadian duo. Having recently moved schools, the two move away from each other for the first time in their lives as they navigate their own separately emerging worlds – Sara has slowly begun to embrace her sexuality and has begun a secretive relationship with her and Tegan’s shared best friend Phoebe (Olivia Rouyre). This relationship soon becomes tested by their attendance at different schools and by Sara’s newly found friendships with drug user and party enthusiast Natalie (Esther McGregor) and Ali (Brianne Tju).
Meanwhile Tegan, feeling the distance her sister and former BFF have given her (but not knowing about their relationship) pursues her own emerging friendship with Maya (Amanda Fix), a strong-willed blonde with whom she shares a chemistry that ever lives on the edge of romance.
It’s from this place of separation that the twins eventually come together, and through their shared experiences of isolation and abandonment begin to craft the foundations on which their future music careers will be built. Yet this will not come easy. Like most teenagers, Tegan and Sara frequently lie to their mother Simone (How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulder) who is dealing with her own issues both in work and in her love life with boyfriend Patrick (Brooklyn 99’s Kyle Bornheimer).
The life of these twins is relatively simple yet made ever more complicated and intriguing by their own choices – the friends they make and the lies they tell keep the narrative in motion as you cheer for everything that pulls these two closer together and despair at the consequences that seem to try and pull them apart.
High School is a grand entry into the teenage drama category of television – its narrative remains simple whilst building on Sara and Tegan’s own perception of their complicated lives. Switching between characters shows scenes from several different perspectives, giving the story its natural tension as several characters may view one event entirely differently – this is shown early in the story when Tegan is approached by a girl who mistakes her for someone else and then leaves her. This same scene from Sara’s perspective shows her viewing her sister seemingly easily making friends whilst she struggles to branch out from Phoebe.
By the end of the first season, I felt the show had more than earned a second outing as the characters and narrative keep the audience watching, not by building on massive drama that, like a volcano, might erupt to devastate all around, but rather by showing how the simple nature of human relationships can only seem so from an outsider’s perspective – and this is a show about outsiders.
As Punk fans, as lesbians, as singers and as the new kids – High School shows how two people coming together can also drive others away, more so if those people are hormonal teenagers who feel that every decision in their life is infinitely larger than it actually is.
I would give this show a solid 9/10 if only for giving me eight episodes that are barely twenty minutes each (seriously, an annoying move once you start to get into the show).
As always, this is Harvey John – signing off.